While the debate over caste-based reservation keeps surfacing every now and then, a strange phenomenon related to the competitive examinations for the government jobs have resurfaced in several states such as Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Cut-off marks for applicants of the reserved categories – Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class – have been higher than those for general category.
Consider these examples:
In Rajasthan Administrative Service (RAS)-2013 mains examination, the cut-off for the OBC was 381 and 350 for general category applicants.
According to the merit list prepared in March 2019 for the sub-inspector post in Railway Protection Force, the Group A cut-off for OBC category was 95.53 per cent and 94.59 per cent for general category candidates; whereas the Group F cut-off was 87.33 per cent for OBC and 76.99 per cent for general applicants.
In Delhi government’s examination for recruitment as teachers in public schools held in September 2018, the cut-off for SC candidates was fixed at 85.45 per cent while it was 80.96 per cent for the general category.
In June this year, when the Adityanath government conducted an examination for recruitment of lecturers and professors in Uttar Pradesh, the OBC male candidates were selected based on a higher cut-off (163.27) than general category applicants (157.14), similar to OBC female candidates. The cut-off for applicants in this group (159.18) was more than 10 marks for the general category (148.98).
Even the Madhya Pradesh Public Service Commission’s exam for taxation assistant posts in 2011 had the cut-off marks for OBC category (288 for male and 266 for female) higher than those for general category applicants (271 for male and 251 for female).
Higher cut-offs for the reserved categories mean that the applicants have to secure more marks as compared to those in the general category for selection. This puts a question mark on the very spirit of the affirmative action policy guaranteed under Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India.
Implications of higher cut-offs for reserved categories
Prima facie it appears a clear-cut violation of the constitutional provisions associated with reservation norms. It also appears to be cases of open discrimination against candidates belonging to the reserved categories. Some see a well-planned conspiracy to ensure SC/ST/OBC candidates do not make any dent in the seats under the non-reserved category, since, according to law, reserved candidates are entitled to general seats based on merit. But keeping the cut-off marks lower for non-reserved categories would mean a de-facto reservation of 50 per cent seats for general category applicants. The higher cut-off marks for the reserved categories will also embolden the anti-reservation lobby to argue that the reserved category students are now sufficiently developed and hence should not be given the benefit of reservation.
So why is this happening? Is there any constitutional provision that allows the cut-off marks for the reserved categories to go above the general category? To know the answer of these questions, we need to look at when can a candidate from one of the reserved categories is eligible to qualify in the general category.
Confusion over court verdicts
From the judgment of a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, an understanding developed that if a reserved candidate manages to secure more marks than the general category students, then s/he would be treated as a general category candidate and thus be given a seat from the non-reserved category.
The bench held that Article 16(4) of the Constitution, which deals with reservation, is quite different from the British-era’s “Communal Award” concept. So, if a candidate from the reserved category is not considered for selection under the general category even after securing more marks, then the reservation system would be similar to ‘communal award’, which the Constitution has thoroughly rejected.
On the basis of the same landmark judgment in Indira Sawhney case, a bench of Supreme Court comprising Justice L Nageshwar Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta delivered another verdict on 17 September 2019, saying that a candidate from the reserved category can be selected on a non-reserved seat because, according to this bench, “every candidate belongs to the general category” irrespective of the fact whether s/he is an SC, ST or OBC. This observation by Justices Rao and Gupta also makes it clear that any candidate from the reserved category can get a seat from the non-reserved category, provided s/he has got the same or more marks than the cut-off required for the general category.
Main obstacle for consideration under general category
Despite such clear verdicts from the Supreme Court, why is there an issue regarding candidates from reserved categories being considered under the non-reserved category? The answer can be found in the same September 2019 verdict delivered by Justices Rao and Gupta. The judges, referring to a verdict by another Supreme Court bench, held that a candidate from a reserved category can only be appointed on a non-reserved seat when s/he had not availed any ‘special concessions’ age limit, minimum eligibility norms and reduced application fees – accorded to applicants of reserved categories.
Similarly, the Supreme Court in April 2017 held in Deepa EV vs Union of India had said that if the candidate from the reserved category has availed age relaxation, s/he cannot be considered for appointment on a non-reserved seat, even if s/he had secured more marks than candidates under the general category. However, in other judgements, the Supreme Court has said that special concessions would not act as impediment in the qualification in general category.
It appears now that on the basis of this verdict, several state governments are excluding some students of reserved categories from the consideration list for non-reserved seats (despite getting higher marks than general category students) because they may have received concessions and/or relaxation for age limit, academic eligibility, application fees, etc.
States have raised age limit for reserved categories
Now if everything is being carried out as per established norms, it should be assumed that the candidates from the reserved categories availing special concessions are not being considered for non-reserved seats despite getting more marks than candidates from the general category. There is another reasoning behind this assumption. In the last few years, several state governments in north India have arbitrarily raised the age limit for reserved category students without conducting a study. The government of former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had in 2012 raised the upper age limit for all examinations conducted by the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission from 35 years to 40 years. Quite a lot has already been written about the long-term impacts of increased age limit on aspirants of reserved categories.
So, an overall analysis of the entire issue reveals that too much confusion is being spread due to these contradictory verdicts by various Supreme Court benches. This might be the main reason why candidates from reserved categories are not being considered for non-reserved seats despite getting more marks than general category students. However, to arrive at any kind of concrete, fool-proof conclusion, we need to thoroughly study all data – like marks obtained, age, etc – of all candidates in any specific examination.
The author is a PhD scholar at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London. His twitter handle is arvind_kumar_ Views are personal.
This article has been translated from Hindi. Read the original here.